The name Brian McTernan may be familiar to many punk, hardcore and rock fans, as he’s produced records for Converge, Darkest Hour, Thrice, Bane, Strike Anywhere, Hot Water Music, Circa Survive and a host of other acts over the years. But, McTernan is returning to his punk and hardcore roots and fronting a new band and album that provides a deeply personal musical statement unveiling his previously held private struggle with mental health.
Be Well finds McTernan pulling in members of Darkest Hour, Bane and Fairweather to deliver a truly raw, energy-infused, heartbreaking yet hopeful collection of tracks that speak to his coming to terms with his mental health and finally being able to share his inner conflict with those who mean the most to him. The Weight and the Cost (due Aug. 21 via Equal Vision Records) serves up a very transparent and brutally honest account of his personal journey.
We spoke to the producer/singer about the cathartic experience of putting the album together in the interview below. In addition, Loudwire is teaming with Be Well to premiere the new song “Morning Light” off The Weight and the Cost, which can be heard a little further down in the interview:
Just for a little history, can you discuss how Be Well was formed and if there was a point where you realized this music needed its own platform?
I haven’t really played or written music of my own at all from 1999 up until about 2017. At that point, I had been producing records, and I was in a tough place in my life. I apprehensively decided to do it, and it ended up being a life changing experience.
I had written a new song — which was the first time I had done anything on my own in almost 20 years — and it just made me realize how much I missed performing, how much I missed writing and how much I missed the community that surrounds being in a band.
You mentioned being drawn to the community aspect of a band. You’ve played with Mike Schleibaum for a long time – but Darkest Hour, Bane and Fairweather are all acts you’ve produced. What did having that previous experience working with them on demos to albums mean in forming the trust to put this message out on record?
Aaron [Dalbec] I have known for over 25 years. I met him the day after my first date with my wife. I was in a band called Ashes that was an early emo band, and we played a show in Boston when I was in high school, so it’s all kind of tied together. And I did records with Converge, and then I did a lot of records with Bane. I did two full lengths with them and a demo and we’ve always been friends.
Mike [Schliebaum] played in Battery toward the end, and then I produced three or four records for Darkest Hour. I think that Mike is 100 percent the reason why this band exists in a lot of ways. When I write stuff, it’s not riffy, like a Darkest Hour song or Bane song would be. It’s not like I’ll play a riff that in itself will knock your socks off. It’s really more what I want to do musically and then it gets dressed up and developed with the band. I think even early on Mike wasn’t totally sure what to make of it before there were vocals on it, but because we had worked together so much, he really kept pushing me. There were a lot of times where I felt like, ‘Ugh, starting a new band … fuck.’
But it was interesting, you’d think producing so long it’d make it easier to find members, but I think it made it harder. I think people’s perception of starting a new band when you’re at this stage in your life is either you’re going to be resigned to some throwback thing where you’re trying to sing to the kids or it’s just simply going to be not good. If I could tell you how many people I sent demos to who never even listened to them and Mike was the guy who was like, “Dude, it’s fucking good. Don’t give up. Fuck them, they’re stupid.”
And then Aaron wasn’t living here, but a friend of mine said, “Did you see Aaron Dalbec moved to Maryland?” So we sent him the demos and he got back to us right away and was like, ‘I fucking love this.’ It was really the confidence that I needed because when people don’t even listen to your shit, it’s hard to feel like this is important and that it matters, especially for a record that is so personal and stretching outside of the boundaries of what I had done musically and everybody involved.
The interesting thing is I produced a Fairweather record, but neither Peter [Tsouras] or Shane [Johnson] were actually in Fairweather at the time. So I didn’t actually know them. I knew of them and was a fan of the records that they played on. Mike is playing in a band with Peter called Zealot and Mike just happened to play him the demos and Peter loved it and then he played it for Shane.
Given your histories, one would think it would lean to a certain style, but this is really more the music fitting the message rather than trying to sound like one particular thing.
We didn’t really go into it with the idea that we wanted to sound like this. Honestly, for me, it was that I wanted it to FEEL like this. To me, the things I love about hardcore and punk music, I just wanted to do something super energetic and kind of immediate, but when you pull yourself back from it, there’s a lot of detail and depth for everything that’s gone into it.
My daughter was reading the YouTube comments [on our last song] and told me, “People are mad that you’re calling this a hardcore band. They don’t think it sounds like hardcore.” It’s funny to me because I have been going to hardcore shows since I was 10 years old. I went to my first show in 1986 and I’ve spent my entire life documenting hardcore, so for me, hardcore isn’t a sound, it’s a community and a feeling. I just feel like anything I’m involved in is going to be that. It has to have energy and immediacy, and it has to have a message. We’ve all been doing this forever and we poured our hearts out and this is what came out.
“Morning Light” is the song we’re going to be premiering. It’s a definite chaotic pit starter, but so heartbreaking and raw in terms of the message. What sparked this song and what catharsis did you get from sharing the emotion of this track?
“Morning Light” is one of the first songs that was written for this record, and I think as you dig into this record you’ll see that as the record progresses, I don’t want to say it took on a more positive tone, but it’s really more of a hopeful tone because of what the record ended up meaning for me in my life.
At the time the original components of this record were written, I had given up recording entirely. I had sold the building and decided it was time to move forward. The lifestyle of producing records and the changes in the industry was taking a toll. I don’t think people realize how much stress producing a record is, especially when you’re like me and you’re all in. Just the hours and the lifestyle had started to wear me out, and I felt like I couldn’t be the producer that I wanted to be at that time. So I sold the studio and got a regular job that ended up being the worst thing that I ever did.
I had mental illness in my family and I have struggled with that through my entire life. When I had records to pour all that into, it really did help. Plus, the companionship of being around all these incredible people all the time, I think it allowed me to be more functional. So when I didn’t have that in my life anymore, and I had this job that didn’t mean anything to me, and I tried desperately to have it mean something and have it work, but I started to realize pretty early on that I was not OK. There were things that I had never allowed myself to feel and had buried with my past that were all bubbling up. It also didn’t help that I went from almost never being alone to being alone all day driving from job to job. My life just felt totally fucking empty.
I don’t think I ever felt as hopeless and just guilty and awful. I was doing this job and just trying to block out feelings. I just couldn’t allow myself to process that maybe I made a mistake leaving music. Plus, my whole community of friends are all musicians. Now I don’t have that and don’t have a reason to be in touch with all these people. I don’t have a way to explain to them how much I miss them. I was also guilty of never sharing with those people that this had ever existed in my life.
Most of my friends and clients never knew I had been kicked out of schools or that I had been in a mental hospital for a period of time. There were a whole host of things that I never revealed to people and then all of a sudden all those things are coming back up, and I didn’t feel I could reach out to people and talk to them about it because it would have been so out of left field. It’s funny to think that the only way I could actually share with the people close to me what was going on with me was by actually writing a record and putting it out into the world.
Be Well, “Morning Light”
One of the things that I think is so amazing about punk and hardcore in general, at least for me, is that it is my safe place. It’s one of the places that I’ve ever known where I felt truly valued and that I could express things that I would have a hard time saying to someone sitting right next to me.
So “Morning Light” was one of the earliest songs, but also one of the most painful and desperate songs to write. And writing these songs, like you said, it was cathartic. I think it was incredibly cathartic. I learned a lot about myself.
When “Confessional,” the first song came out, it’s a pretty revealing song, and I’m a pretty private person. I was fully prepared for full fledged rejection. You’re putting out there the most vulnerable and intimate parts of yourself. My biggest fear was if my friends, my clients, my family knew these parts of me that they would reject it and not be able to understand and actually, as people have gotten this record, I feel closer to the most important people in my life. I’m incredibly grateful to music because you realize once you lose it, what a huge part of you it is.
We’re talking this week as Chester Bennington’s death anniversary and Chris Cornell’s birthday pass, which really seemed to signify the start of a shift in how mental health is viewed and discussed. I’m curious as someone who has dealt with the struggle, have you noticed the shift of how mental health is viewed and accepted in recent years and is it easier to discuss and approach now for you than say 5 to 10 years ago or in your youth?
Yes, I think there’s been a pretty dramatic shift. When I was hospitalized when I was a kid, it was so shameful to have mental health issues that my parents didn’t tell anyone. I literally disappeared from the world and nobody knew what happened to me. I just don’t think that would happen now.
And I’m not just talking about mental health here, but people feeling more comfortable talking about having been raped or kids coming out and revealing that they’re gay or trans. For all of the awfulness in the world as it stands, those things are some small victories where it is a much safer place to express the things you fear the most about yourself.
I think all the time about me hiding this from the people closest to me, the weight and the power that I ended up giving it, and it makes me so sad. I look back at my life and realize how many people that I grew up with were gay or were raped or were abused and lived their lives feeling shame about something they really have no control over. I’m not equating my mental health issues to that, but I’m saying because I didn’t feel like I could express it, it ended up growing and it took on a life of its own that it never deserved. I am just incredibly thankful that there is more acceptance of all of these things that people have traditionally hidden in general.
As a producer, I’m sure you’re used to helping musicians connect to the emotion needed within a song. This record just feels so raw and so personal, I wondered how those years as a producer helped you connect to the music as an artist, because it does come across so well here.
I appreciate that. I’ve always felt that lyrics were super, super important. The goal for me wasn’t so much to make an amazing record, get on a label, tour, get big, any of that. It really was that I just needed to reconnect with part of myself that I felt I had abandoned. Being my age and trying to do this, the only option was to be totally honest. I always used to say to bands, ‘If you don’t cross that line to the point you feel uncomfortable, you’re not pushing far enough.’ I would also say that to myself all the time. There are a lot of things on the record where I’m like, ‘Am I sure I want to say this?’ But I do think the authenticity cuts through. I’m proud of myself for being as transparent as I was about where I was in my life.
For me, what was inspiring about music was always the lyrics. I always felt like records that stuck with me longterm were the records where the words allowed me to process things I couldn’t find the words for myself. I just felt like there had to be other people who felt this way.
It’s interesting that I was able to put this stuff out there and to have my daughter see me do that. I’ve found that the me that is connected with people and creating things and caring about myself, it’s just such a better world and I’m such a better person. And music was the vehicle, just putting myself out there. It may be hard for people who know and love me to hear sometimes, but that’s OK. I just can’t pretend to be anybody but who I am. And if there’s fallout where people just don’t understand, that’s just fine.
Be Well, The Weight and the Cost Album Cover
I know you’re from Baltimore area, but I was wondering if the album cover of the freeway signs was just a cool looking snowy photo or if there was a deeper significance to what that cover meant for you?
One cool thing is that my wife took all the photos on the record. But when I saw that photo, it just summed up so many of the things that I was feeling. There was quite a few Baltimore references on the record. The other thing is a lot of the lyrics and the things that went into the early stages of this record happened when I was driving because that’s what I did. I’d spend hours and hours a day going from job site to job site. So when I saw that photo, it was just that this looks like the record sounds to me.
There’s also a European album cover, and I’ve always felt that there’s a thread in the record of the balance between pain and hope. And I think when you see the two record covers together, they kind of give you that balance.
You had played some shows, and obviously we’re all in shutdown now, but have you had the chance to get some solid feedback?
The reaction has been so amazing. The show thing sucks. It’s such a bummer because things were really starting to click with the live show. The reaction to the first song “Confessional” looks incredible. I don’t know what I expected but what we’ve seen, the pre-order sold out in a few days. The European label sold two separate pressings out in five days. And more than anything the messages I’ve gotten from people and bands that I’ve worked with and people that I hadn’t connected with in forever has just been totally unbelievable.
Our thanks to Be Well’s Brian McTernan for the interview. ‘The Weight and the Cost’ album is due Aug. 21 on Equal Vision Records. You can place your pre-orders for the album at this location.
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